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The answer is a resounding yes. Boulogne was a gifted composer, and his works, spirited, inventive and charming, are far more reminiscent of Haydn than Mozart. He was a superb craftsman, too, whose command of the formal dimensions of composition was easily on par with the best of his colleagues. Certainly, he was a far more imaginative composer than his contemporaries, Johann Christian Bach or the notorious Salieri. The Violin Concerto in D, ably played by Linda Melsted, is a boisterous, rustic affair, while the G major Symphony, composed in 1779, couldn't be more affecting, especially the haunting middle movement [listen -- track 11, 0:00-1:24].
Boulogne had one odd habit, though; without exception, the ending of each piece is inexplicably abrupt,
as if he couldn't quite decide how to wind down an idea and invest in it the kind of formal finality that makes its conclusion seem inevitable
[listen -- track 9, 2:58-4:16].
Two rather superficial works by Boulogne's colleagues and teachers, Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) and François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) fill out the disc.
The Tafelmusik Orchestra is a Canadian period instruments ensemble, and one reasonably well-versed in historical performance practices. But if there is a significant fault that so often infects such ensembles, including this one, it's a reluctance to engage the music for its gustiness and vigor, while favoring a certain affective politeness. To overestimate discretion and decorum in the music of this period at the expense of vigorous articulation and bold affect is not only to do it a disservice, but also historically inaccurate, as the contemporary evidence so ably demonstrates. To hear the music of Boulogne anew in the hands of the great period instrument ensembles, such as Sarasa or Les Arts Florissants would be most welcome, and might even serve to attract the greater public attention it deserves.
Copyright © 7 January 2004
John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA
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Le Mozart Noir - Music of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
SMCD 5225 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 72'51" 2003 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Tafelmusik Orchestra; Jeanne Lamon, conductor
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (c1748-1799): L'amant anonyme (1780) - Overture and excerpts from Ballet; Violin Concerto in D Op 3 No 1 (1774) (with Linda Melstead, violin); Symphony in G Op 11 No 1 (1779); Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764): Allegro from Violin Concerto in F Op 10 No 4 (1745) (with Geneviève Gilardeau, violin); François Joseph Gossec (1734-1829): Symphony in D Op 5 No 5 'Pastorella' (c1761-2)